The most scenic rail journey in Europe

If you ever need to travel between Frankfurt and Cologne, try your best to let the train take the strain. And make sure you take the slow train.

The express manages the journey in just over 80 minutes. The slow train takes an hour longer but includes an extensive and scenic trip up the Rhine river valley.

If you sit on the right hand side of the train from Frankfurt or the left from Cologne, you will be rewarded with wonderful views of the many picturesque towns on this winding stretch of the Rhine.

Every few kilometres, ruined castles and churches perch strategically above the river while thick city walls, watchtowers and the odd midstream fort stand guard down in the valley.

This has to be one of the most scenic rail routes in Europe.

Climbing to the top of Cologne cathedral

The final viewing platform in the tower of Cologne cathedral is one hundred metres above street level. To get there you have to climb exactly 533 steps.

On the way, unless you choose a nice cold winter day, be prepared to get hot and sweaty. The spiral staircase is fairly narrow with just about enough space to pass but best to leave your wheely suitcase in the hotel. Especially since you’re not even supposed to be taking a backpack, although they turned a blind eye when I went up.

A couple of roomy rest stops, both near the top are a welcome and interesting break. The bell chamber contains what you might expect, while a huge vaulted ceiling at the next stop cannot fail to impress.

At the very top, the best view is North along the Rhine or out over the cathedral rooftops towards the Hohenzollern Bridge and the other excellent viewing platform in the city. That’s the one with a lift by the way. And at the time of writing it was even a euro cheaper.

Cologne cathedral always makes me look up. I don’t think you can help it. Interesting then that there are intricate carvings facing in towards the building that are only really visible to the modern day tourist climbing the tower. I find it amazing that so much effort was put in to make the towers perfectly symmetrical even when nobody was expected to see a good proportion of the sculptures.

It was also interesting to note where the building was missing substantial lumps of masonry.

As a final comfort, although on this occasion I did not need it, there is a defibrillator at the top.

Getting to Prague Castle

Prague Castle, like most defensive works, is on a hill. If you have the stamina, you can just head across the Charles Bridge and walk up through the small alleyways to gain access to the castle and St Vitus Cathedral. There is, an easier, alternative.

Tram number 22 climbs the hill to the right hand side of the castle. There is even a stop dedicated to visiting the castle – Prazsky Hrad. You will find a large number of people leaving the tram at this stop.

However, if you prefer a more scenic, downhill stroll past such delights as the Junior Firefighter training camp, approaching the castle from above, take the tram two more stops to Pohorelec. From the tram stop, cross the road, turn left and head downhill, keeping left towards the castle.